Voting laws and racism, or what you can learn doing genealogical research

My husband and I were combing the Morganton Herald (NC), searching for the whereabouts of his grandfather in 1900, when I did a double-take. I grew up with segregated schools and facilities, and knew that many southerners fought the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But I was unprepared to see explicit racism in print.

During April, 1900–when my husband’s grandfather would have been of voting age–the front page of every issue contained commentary in support of North Carolina’s suffrage amendment, soon to be voted on. According to the amendment, “Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” and pay a poll tax.

The amendment made no mention of race, but its purpose was clearly stated by the newspaper: “The white man has assisted and encouraged [the negro] to get out of his place by conferring upon him the right of suffrage, and now it is our duty to show him his proper place by disfranchising him.” “We inscribe thereon white supremacy and its perpetuation.” “[The] rights of every Anglo-Saxon is safely guarded in the amendment.”

Of course many white people couldn’t read or write. No worry. The amendment stipulated that anyone entitled to vote on or before January 1, 1867, could still vote. They and their descendants. (The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting black men the right to vote had been passed in 1868.)

Proponents incited fear among whites. The power granted by the vote had emboldened black men, putting white women in danger, threatening white rights. Pass the amendment, and the negro would know his place. Reason and peace would prevail. The amendment passed and stayed in effect until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s not surprising that today white men and women waving Confederate flags speak of protecting “white civil rights.” Given our history we can also understand southern legislators’ motivation for passing voting laws that require specific forms of ID and limit opportunities to cast a ballot. Today our law makers mask their purpose, claiming cost efficiency and protection from voter fraud, when in fact the intent is to disenfranchise African Americans. Many white voters are manipulated into believing these changes will restore America’s integrity.

History is indeed repeating itself.

3 thoughts on “Voting laws and racism, or what you can learn doing genealogical research

  1. Thank you for sharing your research. I remain amazed that there are those who are continually duped by the “voter fraud” excuse used in negating voters’ rights.

  2. I’m told that I’m in a class of people known as “the discouraged.” Apparently we are people who have experienced some kind of major derailment of lifetime goals. Well, okay, that’s fine, since for me, Jesus is the engineer. With regard to voting, tho, I wonder, because here to I count myself among the discouraged. It’s not that I don’t see where I have the opportunity to vote. Rather, it’s that I usually don’t see where I have a meaningful choice. This is due to my belief, right or wrong, that candidates are determined by who has the most money and that’s the end of it in my mind. I get incredulous eye-rolls for believing in the cabal of the rich, and yet, I’m in no way disgruntled for the level of community we all seem free to enjoy. I’m pretty sure if I were black, which I’m not, I wouldn’t feel so snug. In fact, I might, like our own Nina Simone, try to move to Liberia, or at least Paris. But I’ve seen change on a grand scale, that our Tryon-born diva at least got a glimpse of. I would submit for your consideration, tho, that as long as churches are voluntarily segregated, that is where the truth lives as to whether we are all in this together. Maybe I’m “just sayin’,” or maybe we just plain aren’t on the same page yet as a people, an American people. I put the magnificent video of President Obama leading the Charleston congregation in singing Amazing Grace on my FB page, and I got zero, ZERO “likes” from my hundreds of “friends,” 90% of whom are Christian, and 97% of whom are white. The next day I put a cute picture of a puppy or kitten (WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE???) and got at least 25 hits of approbation. Looks like a world of apathy bought with SuperPAC loot to me.

    • Virginia, thanks for commenting. I too am among the discouraged, but I refuse to let our country and our planet go down the drain without at least doing the little I can do. I’ve noticed how much attention cats and dogs get on FB.


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